Cyber security breaches and how to protect yourself

Over the past 10 years, there have been a number of cyber security breaches that come to mind. In April of 2011, Sony PlayStation network announced 101. 6 million records were breached; 12 million of those were unencrypted credit card numbers, names, physical addresses, birthdays, passwords, answers to security questions and email addresses. If you were using LinkedIn in 2012, you probably had to reset your password after the professional networking site fell victim to a hack that breached 167 million records.

Probably one of the most memorable hacks was announced December 13, 2013. Target disclosed that 40 million records including credit and debit account information, customer name, card numbers, security codes, and expiration dates had been hacked. Yahoo discovered in December 2016 that 1 billion records had been breached which included email addresses, birthdays, and answers to security questions. JPMorgan Chase, Office of Personnel Management, Anthem, and the list could keep going. What do all of these breaches have in common, and how do they pertain to you?

Chances are good that your personal information has been compromised in the past 10 years. What is frustrating about these breaches is there is nothing you or I as a consumer could have done to prevent our information from being exposed. When we do business with these organizations, we trust that our personal information is being held securely. We trust that our employer has developed good cyber security practices to protect human resource data. We see our doctors and nurses in confidentiality and trust the health care organization is protecting our personal health records. Once we have given our information away, we no longer have control over it. So, what do you do when you learn that a company has been compromised and your identity is up for grabs?

Equifax announced on September 7 that 143 million records were breached containing social security numbers, names, addresses, credit card numbers and driver’s license numbers. Not all details have been disclosed as of this writing, but it is shaping up to be one of the most sensitive and serious data breaches of the year. The current estimates suggest that this attack has affected nearly half of the U.S. population. The combination of data that was compromised turns this breach into a heyday for identity thieves. If you’re one of the millions whose information was stolen, there are a few things that you should consider.

Equifax has made it simple to identify if you are one of the individuals whose data has been compromised. If you visit https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com and click on the “Am I Impacted?” link it will tell you if you were one of the unfortunate ones. From there you are given the option to sign up for free credit monitoring. That’s right, they are offering a free year of credit monitoring to all U.S. consumers regardless of whether or not your information was exposed. I would note however, by taking advantage of this offer, you may be waiving any rights to a class action lawsuit should that manifest.

Aside from taking advantage of the free credit monitoring, there are a few other things you should consider. As with any identity theft, you should annually check your credit reports from all three credit reporting companies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This can be done for free by visiting annualcreditreport.com.
Consider placing a credit freeze on your accounts. This prevents any new accounts from being opened in your name. You should also be monitoring your existing bank and credit card accounts for unusual activity. Consider placing a fraud alert on your accounts. This warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim.

For more information about protecting yourself after a data breach, please visit identitytheft.gov.

Stay safe and remember to be cautious of who your give your information to. We can’t always avoid handing out our information, but we can be prepared for when a breach does occur.

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